Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter critiqued the United States for its (read: our) deteriorating record on human rights and rule of law in the last decade.
But those responding to Carter's New York Times Op-Ed (“A Cruel and Unusual Record”) have largely missed his main point. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Carter wants to lead America in removing the log from our own eye in hopes of honoring God and regaining our position as champions of human rights and rule of law.
During his visit to Cairo for the Egyptian elections, Carter met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar — the most authoritative voice in Sunni Islam. Discussing human rights, religion, and the historic election that was taking place outside, Carter exhibited a rare humility in articulating his convictions. I feel that a whole range of human interactions might be improved if we would each remove the log from our own eye before trying to remove the speck from our neighbor’s.
Sitting with women’s rights activists and top Christian leadership; in private briefings and press conferences, this self-critique proved central to Carter’s efforts to build trust and advance human rights in Egypt and around the world.
After decades of lectures from the White House and U.S. State Department, much of the world has grown tired of the West’s wagging finger and “holier than thou” attitude. There may have been an era when this posture had a greater effect, but the U.S. has lost too much of its moral credibility in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and drone strikes carried out against the President Obama's “Hit List”.
Last month, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged in a public speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that the United States was using armed unmanned drones to kill alleged militants.
Brennan’s acknowledgement was the only “new” news.
Beginning in earnest under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.
There are three major reasons opponents of the unmanned death planes usually give. First, in fighting against terrorist and insurgent organizations, the United States has adopted a kill — not capture — strategy. With a “kill list” of targets, the attacks aim at known or suspected leaders.
Second, the attacks can be carried out with no danger to American troops. Remotely guided from distant locations, drones are a way of carrying out risk-free military operations. Third, with the attacks increasingly under the control of the CIA rather than the military, they can be conducted with a high degree of secrecy. Whom the drones targeted and killed, and how many civilians may have also been killed, is free of scrutiny.
This coming fiscal year, the United States is set to spend more than $640 billion dollars on the Pentagon and war, accounting for more than 60 percent of federal domestic spending. In excess of $85 billion of that will be spent on the war in Afghanistan alone.
This unfathomable amount of money was approved by the House of Representatives in the National Defense Authorization Act. These funds will serve to bring suffering and pain to innocent people, further militarize the world and undermine peace and stability for generations to come—all on the backs of those who struggle at home.
In the backdrop of such spending, we’re told that we’re in a financial crisis. Elected officials tell us it is time to make tough choices. There isn’t enough money for programs like “Meals on Wheels” and for ensuring everyone has access to adequate healthcare. Our schools and bridges must wait to be repaired. New roads and schools must remain unconstructed.
Yet some of us know better.
CLICK HERE TO HELP PROTECT POVERTY PROGRAMS FROM FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS (and get an "End Poverty" or "Wage Peace" bumper sticker.)
One year after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s April 2011 crack down on civilian protests against his regime’s torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti, the U.S. and the world are still figuring out what to do about it.
On March 21 the United Nations Security Council announced that it backed a six-point peace plan put forward by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan. By March 27, Annan reported that al-Assad had accepted the cease-fire plan that will take effect April 10. But even as al-Assad met with Annan, reports of escalated crackdowns surfaced. Then on April 3 reports of military escalation in four major urban centers dashed hopes that al-Assad’s April 10 military withdrawal will actually take place.
And so the world waits for Tuesday. Then we will know what legitimate courses of action may come next. If al-Assad abides by the peace plan, then the world can exhale and allow peace to have its process. If not, then multiple questions step to the fore.
The news spread through the city of Suleimaniya so quickly. Within an hour, Kurdish news outlets let the locals know that something bad had happened. From there, it moved even more quickly across the ocean.
By the evening of March 1, I was shocked to read it in my Manitoba prairie city’s newspaper: “Iraqi student kills American teacher in Christian school murder-suicide.“
Along with the bare facts, the questions and rumours arose. Why had the 18-year-old Kurdish boy carried a handgun to class in a Christian school in Suleimaniya and shot his teacher to death?
Was it the result of religious disagreement?
Was there some other kind of conflict between the two of them?
How could a handgun have entered the classroom?
Some our Kurdish partners called a meeting to see if some sort of action should take place. None of us had known either the teacher or the boy. Reports said that this type of shooting was not so unusual, that it happens in the United States all the time. But violence like this had never happened in a school in Kurdish Northern Iraq. Kurds were reeling and asking themselves what is it about their country that allows people to settle differences with a gun in a classroom?
Late last Thursday evening, getting one final fix of news before going to bed, I saw it. Anthony Shadid, the New York Times correspondent and Beirut bureau chief, had died from an asthma attack while ending a clandestine reporting trip into Syria. He apparently suffered the attack in a reaction to horses being used by smugglers helping him and a photographer leave the country.
When you read the news as much as I do, you learn which bylines to look for if you want the most comprehensive and well-written coverage of a story. Mr. Shadid was one of those correspondents.
In a career that included stints with the Associated Press, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and The Times; Mr. Shadid covered one of the most dangerous parts of the world — the Middle East. He was shot in the West Bank in 2002, kidnapped and beaten in Libya in 2011. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, in 2004 and 2010, for his reporting on the Iraq war; and has been nominated by The Times for a 2012 prize.
It seems like every day we hear from another politician saying that “we are ready to attack Iran if necessary," or from another pundit full of hot air telling us why we should invade Iran right now.
The presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has said that he would support “something of a surgical-strike nature, to something of a ‘decapitate the regime’ nature to eliminate the military threat of Iran altogether.” President Obama has said: “Every option is on the table.” All of these conversations typically go along the lines of emphasizing how Iran poses a serious and immediate threat to the United States.
As was the case in the conversations leading up to the 2003 Iraq war, there is much heat, and not a whole lot of light.
Today I was catching up on emails and came across two messages that deeply affected me, maybe because I read them back-to-back.
The first one is from a friend who helped release the “Collateral Murder” video via Wikileaks, showing US troops shooting some unarmed folks in Baghdad, including two children sitting in a van as their family stopped to pick up the wounded and dead. It is one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking videos I’ve ever seen. Feel free not to watch it.
NOTE: If you do watch the video inside the blog, please know that it is contains vivid images of war. It was released here:
The other email message I read was just the opposite. It was about life.
How many people wanted to be President of the United States when they were younger? I’d imagine quite a few. I certainly did, although I now realize that such an attempt would have resulted in something of a "birther" controversy.
As a kid, what made me want to be in such a position of authority wasn’t necessarily the power and prestige of the president. It wasn’t the White House, or Air Force One. It wasn’t even having the authority to pardon a turkey once a year.
It was the red phone.
You know the one. Commissioner Gordon has one for Batman. President Merkin Muffley has one in Dr. Strangelove (I’m pretty sure it’s red, even though it is shot in black and white). It was the phone you used to fix things. To call the superhero, or patch things up with an inebriated Soviet leader (what, you didn’t play Cold War when you were growing up?) That red phone was your hot line to solving whatever problem you were confronted with.
Today, I still want that red phone.
From President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address:
The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. (Applause.) What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And we have to reclaim them.
Let’s remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.
Read the full text of the SOTU Address inside the blog...
In the fall of 2002 and winter of 2003, a steady drumbeat of rhetoric and accusations from the Bush administration were leading the United States into war against Iraq.
Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction he was planning to use against us. Hussein had worked with al Qaeda to carry out the 9/11 attacks. We could replace a brutal dictatorship with a democracy that would become a model for the Middle East. And so on.
After the invasion and 8½ years of war, all were proven false. Iraq did not have any WMDs, there was no connection with al Qaeda, and Iraq continues to be wracked with sectarian violence.
After vandals threw a 20-pound rock through the window of an Iraqi restaurant in Lowell, Mass., its owners, overwhelmed with fear at this unwarranted hate crime, came close to shutting its doors permanently.
That is, until a group of U.S. veterans flooded into the restaurant to support the owners.
Last week, Veterans for Peace organized war veterans and citizens to gather in solidarity with the Iraqi store owners. Their efforts filled the seats of the restaurant twice, and also brought the neighborhood a clear sign that city hate crimes won't be tolerated by people of good will.
If the GOP primaries were like Old Country Buffet, I’d be happy.
Think about it. There wouldn’t be so much money involved and we could pick only the stuff we liked and ignore the rest.
And of course, everyone knows the basic rules of smorgasbord grazing, such as you can’t get decent sushi in the Midwest or proper social conservatives from Massachusetts.
It does no dishonor to those who served to learn from the mistake that was made in starting an unnecessary war in Iraq. And, to realize that it is a mistake the U.S. continues to make. Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor who is also a West Point graduate, Vietnam combat veteran and retired Army colonel; and whose son was an Army officer killed in Iraq put it best. "The final tragedy of a tragic enterprise is that the U.S. has learned next to nothing," he says. "The belief that war works remains strangely intact."
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Before Veteran’s Day was Veteran’s Day, it was Armistice Day.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the cessation of hostilities of World War I took effect.
It was supposed to be the end of the "war to end all wars."
In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to commemorate the day “with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”
In 1938 the day became known as “Armistice Day” with the intent that it would be a day dedicated to the world peace.
In 1954, after World War II, when the world stood in horror at the sight of the Nazi genocide machine and ghastly bombings of civilian populations culminating in the first ever deployment of nuclear bombs, the day became known as Veteran’s Day — a day to honor military service.
I say if we are to truly honor veterans, we ought to remember and honor Armistice Day with the hope that we can bring an end to violent conflict within and between nations.
Despite all that I knew 40 years ago about the policy and politics of the Vietnam war, I learned much more by simply listening to veterans. Late at night, often in bars, I heard about the war from the experience of those who fought it. And that taught me more than everything I had ever read. With tens of thousands of vets coming home from Iraq in the next two months -- and many more returning from Afghanistan over the next two years -- we'll have plenty of opportunities to say thanks, and then just listen.
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